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‘She was trying to put us black kids down’: Sub resigns after class says she spread MLK conspiracy

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2/13/2019 Michael Brice-Saddler
Nathan Byrd, a fifth-grader at Rand Road Elementary in Garner, N.C., poses with a football. (Byrd family photo) © Family/ Nathan Byrd, a fifth-grader at Rand Road Elementary in Garner, N.C., poses with a football. (Byrd family photo)

For many school children, a substitute teacher means a refreshing change of pace for that day’s lesson plan.

That was supposed to be the case during Nathan Byrd’s Friday music class, where he says the teacher’s replacement was expected to put on a movie. Instead, he and his family allege the sub berated the fifth-grader for his clothing and made other outlandish remarks — invoking President Trump and religion before falsely telling students the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. committed suicide.

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The offensive comments were made at Rand Road Elementary in Garner, N.C., and were documented on Facebook that evening by Nathan’s father, Billy Byrd. The elder Byrd said the substitute teacher, who has since been forced to resign, told Nathan and other boys of color in the class their athletic apparel “set them up for prison” and that they were “one mistake away” from being incarcerated.

“It made me feel at that time discriminated against; it was like she was trying to put us black kids down as if we were nothing,” Nathan Byrd said in an interview Monday. “I told her, ‘You’re predicting my future that hasn’t happened. I’m 10 years old and you’re older than me; you’re telling me based on my clothing I’m going to prison?' If she has a problem with it, that’s her decision.”

The Byrds say the teacher didn’t stop there, adding that she came up with her own, unusual lesson plan that “glorified President Trump and his love for God, country and all Americans." Billy Byrd wrote on Facebook. Byrd said the teacher told the students in the class that those who failed to support Trump and acknowledge he is a “good Christian” were not good Christians themselves.

The unusual class was further marred when the teacher asserted King’s assassination was fabricated, and that he’d actually killed himself. Nathan says the instructor asked the class if they’d heard of King before making the false statement, which he and his classmates called her out on, as they did with the other claims she made.

“It was crazy because, it’s like, the teacher’s supposed to be giving us the facts that we need to know in school to be better in life, but we’re the ones who’s telling her what’s right,” Nathan said. “Everything she said was very wrong, I had to let her know Martin Luther King was assassinated, he did not commit suicide.”

While it is Black History Month, the students were not supposed to be learning about any type of history in music class Friday, Nathan said. The family says the sub had difficulty getting the students to follow her instructions, prompting her to divert discussion to politics, religion — and eventually — the clothing choices of several minority students in the class.

Billy Byrd said his son wore a T-shirt, joggers and Jordan-brand sneakers Friday, an outfit he included in his Facebook post. He told The Post his son was one of four minority students the substitute teacher, who is white, called out in her tirade — a notion Byrd found to be problematic.

“My son doesn’t sag, he doesn’t wear his pants inappropriately — we don’t do that,” the father said, adding that the class is majority white. “For her to target them because young black boys are wearing Jordans, joggers and hoodies, that’s just bogus. That shouldn’t lead to her identifying them as a threat or prison material.”

Byrd said he was happy with how school administrators handled the incident, which he and his son each reported to officials that day. Tim Simmons, chief of communications for the Wake County Public School System, said Tuesday the school’s principal and staff first learned of the allegations Friday afternoon and spoke with “as many students as possible before the day ended.”

“Based on those conversations, the substitute teacher was contacted over the weekend and immediately resigned,” Simmons said. “She is no longer eligible to teach in the district.”

The substitute teacher could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. Byrd said he spoke with parents of two other students who made similar complaints to administrators. However, Simmons said staff could not corroborate every detail of the story.

The incident serves as another blow to Black History Month that has been mired in racist allegations and incidents. First there were blackface scandals in Virginia and Florida — and then Virginia and Florida again. Then actor Liam Neeson said he once wanted to kill a black person to avenge his friend’s rape. Clothing brand Gucci apologized after being accused of making a sweater that invokes “Little Black Sambo.” And singer Katy Perry faced similar allegations about her new shoes.

But Billy Byrd said he forgives the instructor, adding that he’s taught his son not to let the words of others define him. He said he’s proud of Nathan for “standing up to the evils that be.”

“I’m trying to be proactive so nothing like this ever happens again,” Byrd said. “We can’t let people with evil and negative intentions impact how we enjoy our life like we’ve always enjoyed it.”

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